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What's a Reasonable Amount of Liability to Carry for Drone Photography?

Published: 14/10/2016
By: larry

insuranceFelix in MA asked more questions about drones:

After passing the FAA test, I've developed even more questions about drones and using them:

  1. What's a reasonable amount of liability to carry for drone photography?
  2. Any thoughts on good insurance companies for this coverage?
  3. Are the drones themselves worth insuring ? Or is self insuring the equipment the more economical option?

Just the week before Felix's question Ethan Tweedie was telling me about his great new insurance guy (Chuck Eagleston) that he had found via ASMP. Ethan wanted me to pass this contact to everyone. So I called up Chuck and talked to him about insurance for real estate photographers and drones, etc. I got three important take away's from the conversation with Chuck:

  1. The same insurance solution doesn't fit everyone. Chuck and his partners tailor coverage for each photographer.
  2. With liability insurance, the difference between $500k and $1M coverage is just $35 a year so there's no reason to skimp on coverage.
  3. Chuck and his partners specialize in small studio and home-based photographers.
  4. You can start the process by going through their website: nationalphotographersinsurance.com.

This service is for US residents only. Go to their website and check them out! And thanks to Ethan for giving us this reference.

9 comments on “What's a Reasonable Amount of Liability to Carry for Drone Photography?”

  1. You should already have a 1 to 2 million dollar general business liability policy. First thing I would do is to check if that would cover drone work or if a rider could be attached.

  2. As long as we are referring ASMP authorized insurance agents - one of the major sponsors of the ASMP National Organization and someone who specifically does individualized photographer policies - both domestic and for international travel is Howard Burkholz of Allstate in Utah. He is able to drill down to the exact coverage you need and that fits your budget. In fact - one of the reasons we use him is that when we do our top end photography shoots many times we need certificates for the shoot. Usually its same day but most times its minutes! Here is his website: http://www.westernphotographersinsurance.com

  3. Neal is right. A separate policy just for aerials will be more expensive than a business liability policy that covers everything.

    Consider what your liabilities might be if your drone damages something or needs to be retrieved from a difficult to reach place. Remember that carbon fiber is conductive, so if you get tangled in power lines, you don't want to try to get it yourself and know that the top lines in a residential neighborhood can be between 4kv-20kv. Southern California Edison can charge up to $10k (maybe even more) to get a commercial drone down. They bring out a specialist crew and don't shut the power off when they do it. Those crews are expensive and if they are called out after normal business hours, it all overtime. You will want your policy to cover that expense or the cost of renting a crane to reach a perch that isn't accessible by other means. If you hang one up in a tall tree, you might just want to write it off.

  4. I currently have a policy through Costello Aviation Insurance, $599 for $500K. For $1M it was $999, based on their last quote. Verifly is nice for low volume, but with my volume at $10 per flight I'd pay well over $5K a year. I would like to get new quotes now that Part 107 is out... it would be interesting to see if rates are more competitive now.

  5. Be very wary of a general business policy covering drone liabilities. These are aircraft and registered as aircraft with the FAA and operated by FAA certified pilots. Aviation insurance is very different from ordinary business insurance and in the case of a loss you could find your general liability policy will exclude any coverage if you are a crewmember of an aircraft. Unless you can get a letter from the underwriter exempting you from the aviation limitations in your policy, then you really should be getting your insurance from an aviation insurance company. (I haven't looked at a lot of general insurance policies, but the ones I have seen specifically exclude coverage while operating an aircraft. Homeowner liability policies, too).

    There are only a small number of aviation insurance companies and the world of aviation insurance brokers is a close group. DO NOT SHOP aviation insurance. Let your broker do it- that is what they are there for. If two brokers try to market the same pilot, the first broker gets the business. And the rates charged will be the same.

    Aviation insurance for drones is unreasonably high because the aviation insurance companies have no actuarial experience with drones, so they use their closest analogue- the small single-engine General Aviation aircraft, like a Cessna 152. For example, $2M smooth liability on my 2,000+ pound Cessna Cardinal (which can carry three passengers) cost me a bit over $900/year. A $1M liability policy on my Phantom2 (no passengers need be covered), which weighs about two pounds, is a bit over $1,000/year. Go figure.

    What risk you are willing to take is with your General Business insurance? Consider this: There have been more than a million hours of flight of small drones in the U.S., yet there is not one verifiable report of a drone crash in the US that resulted in a serious injury as defined by the NTSB* to someone not connected to the flight. Not one. It is a safety rate that all other segments of aviation would be jealous to have**. There is also not one verifiable report of a collision between a small drone and a manned aircraft. Not one.

    * A band-aid is not a serious injury. CFR 49 §830.2 contains the definition of "Serious Injury" that the FAA and NTSB use in their aircraft and vehicular accident statistics.
    ** According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, 100,000 hours in the General Aviation fleet would include at least one fatality.

  6. I wouldnt bet on any of the major photo insurers covering drones under your existing general liability policy. TCP sent me a letter specifically stating that they do NOT cover any drone activity under general liability policies. They required a separate rider/policy type for drone activity and what I briefly read in the letter sounded like it would basically double my premium to do so. I currently carry 4 mil in liability, and 1 mil in E&O plus quite a bit in gear coverage and other riders, with a reasonable deductible, so Im already paying $1500 a year. Hitting almost $3k a year for insurance didnt interest me at all (at least until I get a LOT more drone business), so Verifly looks like a great resource for my first couple of years doing drone work.

    Interestingly as Stephan points out, most aviation carriers have zero clue about drones and are the highest priced policies out there. I havent found anything reasonable yet for someone like me who hasnt grown thier drone business yet like those who did under a 333 exemption. TCP has covered my aerials from a manned aircraft (cessnas and robertson helos) for years under the same general liability as long as the pilot is carrying liability insurance as well for his actions. Which is ALWAYS the case with legit a charter service.

    However, in a year from now, as 107 has opened the proverbial floodgate, I think youll find this whole conversation invalid as the industry of insurance has changed as fast as the drone industry. When big companies that were scared of insuring drones, or charged outrageous rates for it, start losing customers in droves to underwriters/agencies that will do an all in one policy at very competitive rates, the cycle of supply/demand, and free enterprise, will change how this is done and priced from what we are discussing today.

    Not that drones arent cool and fun to fly- but I got into aerials because I could get a client to pay for a flight, Id book a cessna 172 when possible, and take my kids along in the backseat at no out of pocket to me for flights, and we all got to go flying which is just plain fun. I could (and have considered ) walking away from aerials alltogether, but Ive built a business and clientele so I have been waiting for 107 to be released and ill continue doing it and adapting to thier budgets and such, but it just isnt the same for me anymore. Fortunately theres still some airspace that you may never get drone approval in around my area due to how busy it is, so I can still get the occasional manned aircraft gig for me and my kiddos..

  7. I am authorized ASMP insurance provider and I can tell you that no unendorsed Genera Liability policy will cover drones. You would need un-manned aircraft liability coverage. We have a specialized market that can offer both liability and physical damage coverage for a drone for around $900 a year. Also, the ASMP Prosurance policy we offer will cover your owned and rented equipment on a Replacement Cost basis, even while attached to a drone. I know some of the other ASMP preferred policies out there do not cover Replacement Cost, they cover Actual Cash Value (Depreciated Value) of the equipment.

    Please feel free to contact me at rltaylor@taylorinsurance.com with any questions.

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